Seven Somali journalists detained, radio station raided after interview with opposition group


Authorities in Hirshabelle state in south-central Somalia must stop intimidating and censoring the press through arbitrary arrests and station closures because they disagree with the content reported, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

Friday, January 21, 2022 afternoon, heavily armed Hirshabelle Police in the regional capital of Beledweyne attacked local independent radio station Hiiraan Weyn while it was on the air, according to station editor Yasiin Ali Ahmed, who spoke to CPJ via the messaging app , an association declaration by the Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) and the Somali Media Association (SOMA), and a declaration by the Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ). During the raid, officers forced the station off the air and detained seven journalists for six hours, the sources said.

The raid followed the broadcast of an interview with the Hiiraan People’s Liberation Front in Beledweyne, a group opposed to the current leadership in Hirshabelle, less than two hours earlier, according to the statement and Yasiin, who added that the police used their weapons to break down a door to enter the station.

“The outrageous detention of the seven journalists from Hiiraan Weyn and the temporary closure of the radio station show a complete disregard for the right of journalists to work freely and without fear in Somalia,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. At New York. “Threatening journalists with death in a country that has a culture of impunity for killing journalists sends a chilling message. Those responsible, regardless of rank, must be held accountable and their behavior must not be tolerated. »

With 25 killings over the past decade still unsolved, Somalia tops CPJ’s annual ranking Global Impunity Index as the country with the worst record in the world for bringing killers of journalists to justice.

The seven detained journalists – Yasiin, Abdullahi Ali Abukar, Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, Abdisamad Elmi Abdi, Abdimajid Dahir and Mustaf Ali Addow – were taken to Beledweyne police station, where they were detained for six hours and briefed by the police. that they were “terrorists” who would be shot for reporting on the Hiiraan People’s Liberation Front, according to the joint agency declaration and Yasiin.

“We were detained without access to a lawyer or anyone else,” Yasiin told CPJ. “We were told that if we were arrested again we would be killed, but we would continue to do our job until we got justice or died.”

The journalists were eventually released without charge after numerous calls for their release from citizens and journalists’ groups. None of the journalists were injured and no equipment was seized during the raid, Yasiin told CPJ.

Later in the day, the journalists were taken to a house where Hirshabelle vice-president Yusuf Ahmed Hagar, Hirshabelle police chief Colonel Hassan Dhi’isow and army commander were staying. Somali National Col. Mohamud Hassan Ibrahim, according to Yasiin and the SJS and SOMA statement. .

“They threatened us with consequences if we continued to report anything critical of the Hirshabelle authorities,” Yasiin said. “We were told we would be killed next time if we were arrested again.”

The following day, Saturday January 22, 2022, Hiiraan Weyn returned to the air.

FESOJ Secretary General Farah Omar Nur expressed concern in a Newscast on continued crackdown on press freedom in Beledweyne, despite training of police by media groups meant to support freedom of expression, according to SJS and SOMA declaration.

“SJS and SOMA are also concerned that the police officers who committed these gross violations and their commanders were trained and equipped with contribution funds provided by the UK and German governments under a joint policing program with little or no accountability mechanism,” said Abdalle Ahmed Mumin of SJS. The secretary-general is quoted in the joint statement, adding that the protection of human rights includes the protection of freedom of expression.

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The British Embassy in Mogadishu confirmed UK support for the Joint Policing Program (JPP) in an email response to CPJ’s request for comment, saying freedom of speech and a free press are crucial to an inclusive political process.

“We have asked the JPP secretariat to investigate these allegations,” Claire Blythe-Tinker, second political secretary at the British embassy, ​​told CPJ. “We await the outcome of this process and will also be in contact with the competent authorities in Hirshabelle. However, as we have done in the past, we are prepared to suspend our support depending on the outcome of the investigation.

The German embassy said it was aware of the alleged incident at Hiiraan Weyn and took it very seriously, Somali Unity policy officer Judith Gosmann told CPJ in a statement. email, adding that “Germany strongly reiterates its commitment to international human rights”. standards, in particular freedom of the press and of expression, and will implement the program (JPP) in a way that reinforces these objectives and does not compromise them.

Beledweyne Police Commissioner Mohamed Mohamud did not respond to several phone calls and messages sent by CPJ via WhatsApp. There has also been no response to CPJ’s emails and phone messages to the offices of Yusuf and Mohamud.

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